How to Bounce Your Flash (With Video Demonstration)

get-great-light-with-flash

Life is fun and wonderful when you have great light. But what happens when you are indoors, with nothing but yucky artificial light going on? In this video Rob shows you a super simple technique to get great light with your flash. So take a minute, and enjoy learning visually.

Fun right? Now that you’ve watched the video, here are some notes to help you set everything up in the right order, and get some awesome light!

First, let’s look at the results from the video (no editing, all straight out of camera: SOOC)

In this shot you’ll see there is still some colour cast on Lauren’s face from the overhead lights. Gotta block that out:

bouncing-flash-001.jpg

Reduced the ISO and now there’s virtually no cast left:

bouncing-flash-002.jpg

This is with the flash pointed straight up. Not much light in her eyes, and unflattering shadows:

bouncing-flash-005.jpg

Direct flash. Icky: 

bouncing-flash-004.jpg

Better! This is with the flash pointed at 45 degrees, over my right shoulder. Soft, directional, easy:

bouncing-flash-003.jpg

1. Block Out Ambient Light

Set your exposure to block out ambient light. What you want to do is block out those icky overhead lights. This might seem counterintuitive (normally in low light conditions you want as much light as possible).

The problem is that the overhead lights produce a different color temperature than your flash. If you don’t block them out, your images will have a combination of the yellower overhead temperature and the bluer flash temperature and will be virtually impossible to white balance.

Set your shutter speed first around 1/160 – 1/200 (faster shutter speeds will help block out the ambient, but you can’t go too fast or you won’t be able to sync with you flash).

Next set your aperture to something your comfortable with. We’re usually in the f/2.8 to f/3.5 range.

Finally adjust your ISO until you can no longer see ambient light in the image. If you’re taking a test shot of a person their skin tones should be extremely dark—you really don’t want any yellow cast showing .

2. Set Your Flash

Attach your flash and turn it on. Set your flash to ETTL or an automatic equivalent. You should already have your camera exposure settings (from Step 1.)

All you should have to do at this point is aim your flash in the direction you would like to bounce the light from. This will take a little bit of practice and you’ll have to be conscious of what you’re bouncing off of. We typically position the flash at about 45 degrees and point it over our left or right shoulder. This produces nice soft directional light (as seen in the photos).

Take a few test shots and adjust your flash as needed. You may need to adjust the power of the flash up or down depending on how bright the image is.

3. Practice!

This technique will work 90% of the time. You’ll find that you can bounce off of walls and celings that seem impossibly far away. It’s just a matter of adjusting the direction of the flash and fine tuning the strength.

Spend some time practicing this in your home. Try different angles, bounce of walls, ceilings, and anything that you think could work. See how the different directions result in different types of light.

Tips:

• This technique is perfect for wedding receptions. You don’t have to do much with your camera, and can spend more time paying attention to what is happening, and capturing those moments. Less fiddling, more focus.

• The best flashes for this technique are the 580EX for Canon and the SB900 for Nikon. They call them “shoe-mount flashes”. They can rotate to any angle, which gives you the variation you need to get the best light. If your flash can’t turn all the way, your best bet is just bouncing as much as you can. 

• Bouncing your flash uses up a lot of battery power. The additional battery pack is useful in helping your flash recycle quickly. (Canon model. Nikon model.)

• Mirrors on the wall will often confuse the automatic settings in flash, in which case you may need to set the flash power manually.

• You’ll find that as it gets darker (lowering lights for the dance for instance) you can turn your ISO up without having the ambient light show up. This will help conserve battery power, and recycle your flash faster!

The farther away from your subject you are the more direct you’ll need to point your flash. This is useful to know for things like speeches. For instance if you’re really close to your subject you’ll have no problem bouncing flash over your shoulder and beautifully lighting your subject. If your subject is across a room you won’t be able to bounce over your shoulder instead you’ll need to point the flash more directly at your subject, maybe bouncing off a wall, or more forward on the ceiling.

• If you’re working in a venue with an extremely tall ceiling, a black ceiling, a brightly colored ceiling, or no ceiling at all then you will need to resort to a flash diffuser, direct flash or off-camera flash.

Notes:
Apologies for the icky light in the video. It was kind of the point :) And the shakiness, well, Lauren apologizes, and says that her arms are embarassingly weak. Big thanks to Sheri, Lauren, Brenda and Steph for the topic suggestion! Hope this helped!

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

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Comments

75 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Thank you Rob and Lauren! I've found your blog posts so informative and really easy to understand.

  2. Thanks guys. You are so awesome sharing all this info with us!

  3. Thanks for this guys! We've shot over 75 wedding receptions with our Flashes pointed straight up! EEK! We are going to test out what you've shown us and know we'll get more of what we've been looking for. Thanks so much guys and we're looking forward to more Flash Tutorials!! ;)

  4. *Melanie:* Thanks so much, we're so glad to hear that you're digging the site!

    *Janine:* You are most welcome! Happy to share!

    *Heidi:* Right on! So glad to hear that you're gonna try it out. I think you'll dig it, so much room to play!

  5. Thanks so much, can't wait to try it out and see all the other flash tutorials!

  6. Thanks! That was excellent.

  7. Great video! Quick question? If the wall you are bouncing off of is a differently color other than white, will this technique have the same effect? say, pink, green, brown, purple, etc?

  8. you guys are awsome. this site helps lot,I'm using a lightspear but it is too big and after I saw this video I've notice that I can get same effect with bouncing the light.. thanks so much and Im looking forward for more pro tips and tricks..:)

  9. @Sheila Hi! Great question! We don't have much difficulty bouncing off a wide variety of colors. You may notice the color but it's not usually an issue. If the wall or ceiling is really brightly colored then you'll definitely notice the color cast. What you'll find is that the more that you use this technique the more that you'll get creative about what you can bounce light off of!

    @Gino Great to see you! Hope this helps. We're excited to share more :)

  10. You guys are so great, thanks for an amazing video! I'm absolutely a visual learner, so it's great to be able to watch you direct the flash various ways, and to be able to see the result of each shot. Thank you so much, I always look forward to diving into your site. :)

  11. Great topic and to the point instructions. Just what I needed! Shooting my first wedding in June and I won't be able to rely on the natural light I typicaly work with. Thanks and I hope you continue this series!

  12. Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the video, definitely more to come :)

  13. This was super helpful- thanks a bunch! :)

  14. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
    This was so helpful and it really made sense and now I'm excited to get practicing and trying it out!

    Love this site!
    I've recommended it to all my friends!

  15. Do you find that the smaller apertures still work well with a zoom lens given the effect of the extra compression on the depth of field?

  16. *@Allison:* So glad you enjoyed it!

    *@Sheri:* Wow, thanks so much for the comment! So glad it made sense! And double thanks for sharing the site, we really appreciate it!

    *@Gareth:* Do you mean telephoto lenses? Like long focal lengths? I really like the look of a small aperture with a long lens, gives fantastic bokeh!

  17. A friend gave me this link a few days before I was to shoot a wedding. (I've only shot one before, so there were nerves, but I'm confident in my natural light abilities…not so much flash)
    I have to say that every SINGLE time that I used your 'trick' of turning the flash backward pointing away (stopped with a stoffen) the light was just creamy and gorgeous. I am so grateful to have heeded your wise advice. Thank you!

  18. Thanks for the post you guys! This is exactly what I needed to know :) I can't wait for more tutorials. The video was an amazing addition.

  19. *@Emily:* That's so great to hear that it worked for you! Hooray!

    *@Steph:* Awesome!! So glad it helped!

  20. That was a great video! It had good information. Quick question though, what camera do you use to film your videos?

  21. @DaliSalvadorAde Thanks for the comment! Most of our videos are filmed with the Canon 5D MK II. I think for this video as well as the previous video we used the Canon 35 f/1.4 lens.

  22. Great, great info! Shooting my first wedding (with an indoor, nighttime reception) next month and your video has given me a more confidence to handle the poor lighting :-) Now I just need to practice! Thanks!

  23. *Molly:* Thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed the video! Practice practice practice, and I'm sure you'll be confident by the time your wedding rolls around! Good luck! :)

  24. This is so much easy to understand for a beginner like me. All I really need now is to practice. Thanks a lot!!!

  25. Thanks for the comment Maricel! So glad it was easy to understand!!

  26. Maureen says:

    This is AWESOME!! I'm absolutely a visual learner and this video is fantastic. I'm so grateful for all you offer. Now… off to dig through the rest of your site.

  27. Thanks so much Maureen! We're so glad it was helpful for you! :)

  28. This was a great video and so helpful.I am so scared of the flash! I shall practice now and be less scared, hopefully!

  29. Thank you so much! This video was just what I needed to inspire me to practice with my flash instead of being afraid of it :).

  30. Thank you so much for explaining everything in a way that FINALLY clicked for me!

  31. This was the best video EVER! I instantly was able to apply these practices and saw INSTANT results! Wow you have no idea as to how helpful this was THANK YOU!!!

  32. I am so impressed with your explaination of not only how to bounce my flash but the why's of camera setting too. So many articles out there, none I have read so far have given me the understand your video and writtings have. Thank you.. Your site is awesome..

  33. This is the BEST TUTORIAL EVER!!!!! It made so much sense and you explained things so well. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!

  34. Thank you everyone for all the wonderful comments! We're so glad this was helpful! Yay!! :D

  35. I have been searching and searching for a tutorial to help me understand the whys and hows of using flash. Thank you, thank you for this amazing video and post! I had no clue about reducing the ambient light and, consequently, couldn't figure out why my photos were so difficult to adjust. Now I know. And, as someone who took many photos with the flash pointed straight up (but not really understanding WHY), I'm happy to say I won't be doing that anymore. Very glad I found this site! Thanks again. :-)

  36. Hello
    Fell upon your site this morning and like all the other people above are glad I did.
    First off thanks for sharing your knowledge and your time taken to do the videos.
    I have just tried my flash with your advice above, unfortunatly there is no one to practice on @ the moment but photo's looked perfectly exposed and you would be pushed to notice a flash had been used.
    Am I correct in thinking if I wanted some ambient light in the scene I would do the same steps as above only get my settings on camera to show the amount of ambient light that I require, rather than have the lcd nearly black? Hope my rambling makes sense .

    Gaz
    "Uk"

  37. Awesome video!!! Thank you so much guys!

  38. Hi Rob: Thank You so much for this video and wonderful article on Flash…

    Flash is always a scary thing to me but your simple demonstration describe the complex thing in a super simple way…

    Wating for more article on Flash…

  39. Thank you so much, it helped me a lot :) Good work guys!!

  40. Hi Lauren and Rob, thanks for that really useful tutorial! Just wondering what wb you use when shooting with 2 different light sources like you were in the video ? I was 2nd shooting a wedding recently and the main photographer asked me to shoot in flash wb ?

  41. Thanks for all the comments guys!! So glad this made flash easier for you!

    @Gary: Exactly! If you want to bring in a bit of ambient, get that at first when you're figuring out your settings. Then add in flash!

    @Liz: We are a bit lazy with our White Balance, and just leave it in auto. And it usually works quite well! Since we shoot RAW, we like to fine tune the WB in Lightroom afterwards. I actually don't know if we've ever tried Flash WB. Sorry that's not more helpful :S

  42. Is bouncing off non finished wood a bad thing? My last wedding was in a barn. Well… a room with a wooden ceiling and wooden walls. I chose not to bounce because of the possible color shift; was this good thinking?

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Good question! And here’s a vague answer for you — it depends! We’ve bounced off of wood before with good results. It really depends on the situation. The best thing you can do is take a few test shots, and see how it looks. A warm colour shift can often be corrected with in-camera custom white balance, or afterwards in an editing program (a great reason to shoot RAW, as it makes this much easier!). And if it means more flattering light, because you were able to bounce, then that’s a good thing!

      However, if the results look really horrible, and the colour shift is too extreme to correct, then you may need to abandon bouncing, and use either a light modifier like a Flip-It (which we keep in our bags for those rare situations where bouncing won’t work), or off-camera flash that can be more direct, while still looking good.

      This is a great reason to attend wedding rehearsals whenever possible, as it lets you see this challenge in advance, test out bouncing, and even try to fix the white balance at home, all before the big day!

  43. I absolutely cannot thank you enough for posting this tutorial. I do a lot of shoots at indoor martial arts tournaments, and although I was reluctant to purchase a Speedlight at first, I finally gave in a few months ago and bought a 320EX to use when I find myself in a dark arena with horrid lighting. Finding simple and informative flash tutorials online amidst the vast expanse of “natural light” photography blogs has been next to impossible. I needed a simple, concise explanation of how to get a flattering, “natural” look while using a hotshoe flash on-camera, and FINALLY I have found one here! The ISO adjustment is truly the key to reducing the harsh color tones and glare that I kept getting when I used the Speedlight. This is the first tutorial I’ve found that explained how and why I needed to reduce the ambient lighting by adjusting the ISO, and it has totally changed my view on using flash. THANKS A MILLION!!!!!!

  44. Thanks for the great tutorial. I love the design of your site, and such good information. Very grateful for your efforts :)

  45. I NEEDED THIS MORE THAN YOU KNOW… I am self taught photographer who gets so nervous about taking pictures at events. Why? The lighting. I have no control of all the lighting and mirrors at that location.

    Reading and watching your video made me feel as if I was in a classroom with a teacher. I really appreciate you tips, tutorials, and taking time out to explain this.

    Every club or party I shoot, I have mixed the ambient light, with the flash light, and the wrong exposure. There are tons of noise in my images and colors that doesn’t exist (poor lightroom and photo shop). I have to tweak each and every image every night.

    You just cut my workflow down about 2 hours of work. Thanks a million. I am going to try this.

  46. Wow, that was an awesomely informative video! Thank you so much for posting this! I don’t have a removable flash, but I love knowing there are ways to get rid of the deer in the headlights look! I am not a pro, I just enjoy perfecting our family photos. Let me tell you, our Christmas eve night gift opening pictures were a disaster. The only light was from table lamps and the Christmas tree, and the photos are either blurry and orange when I didn’t use flash, or deer in the headlights blown out! So this is something I might want to invest in, in the future! Thanks for having such an awesome website!!!

  47. Sorry guys, you are off the mark on this:

    “The problem is that the overhead lights produce a different color temperature than your flash.
    snip
    …and will be virtually impossible to white balance.”

    Sadly that is just plain urban myth! You are suggesting that a scene with sunlight coming in a window, incandescent light in the room and flash cannot be white balanced? lol, While perfect lighting of a scene is a rare thing being able to deal with what you got gives you more options than the costs of top end flash systems.

    Having said that, if you can deal with what you get and use a high end flash system, then you are painting with light!

    I’ve just shot another wedding of 3000+ images and got perfect light in every shot from dark interiors to rim lighting with the setting sun… same flash, same position, (pointing at the subject) different mind set! :-)

  48. I’m LOVING your wedding e book, and was directed here for flash. I shot a wedding a few weeks ago and was NOT happy with the results I got inside without using a flash. So, this tutorial is super helpful as I shoot another wedding tomorrow- this time I will be utilizing my flash for those awful indoor settings where there are crazy ambient light sources going on! Thank you for taking the time to make this for us- it’s super helpful and I appreciate it so much!

  49. Thank you once again for this page and the awesome tips.

    In the past, I always took pictures in low light situation (clubs, night photography) and I used the fast 50mm or 35mm lens and set my camera to Manual. The images were amazing.

    I now noticed that some of my images are horrible, underexposed, and just incorrectly exposed. I do need a better flash system that’s consistent (like SB 900). I am currently using Nissan i866 is the worst flash.

    The only question I have and I think is the main issues, is how do you focus in a room with no light or very low light. My canon and nikon always hunt for hours before I could click the shutter. The first two images are so hard to create or get. If there isn’t any light, the camera shutter doesn’t go off. The lens continue to go back and forth; back and forth.

    Please, I need your help on this.

    • Rob Lim says:

      Hey Jackie!

      Thanks for your comment! When the light is very low (super dark), our cameras definitely hunt for focus in those situations. The flash has a red light on it for focus assist but I haven’t found it super useful.

      What might work for you is using an LED video light to help you get focus.

  50. Incredibly helpful! Thank you. I especially appreciate how you explained the steps to cutting out the ambient light. My poor husband just had to endure me learning while he was almost asleep in our low lit room. IT TOTALLY WORKED :) Thanks again, I love learning and you made it so easy!

  51. Instead of killing all the ambient light, learn how to properly mix the flash with the existing light (level, color) . I’m 80% of the time at ISO1250-1600, f3.2, 1/60-1/125 when doing wedding receptions… I even drag the shutter down to 1/15sec…

  52. Penny Tietze says:

    Hi guys!
    For years, my family has wanted me to start a at home photo business. I haven’t had the guts or time. BUT I AM A NINJA!
    Well, the time is here but there is sooooooo much to learn. I have some people asking me to do head shots already! I just shoot the mood! Can I really do this as a business?!
    One other important question…
    What is a easy way to ‘water mark’ my pictures? I think that is the term used to mark your pics to keep some one from stealing it?
    Ninja Penny

  53. After you’ve set your settings to block out the ambient light, attached your flash, and pointed it in the direction you want, do you need to change your camera settings at any point? For example: an indoor night wedding in a church. Or is it more “set it and forget it” when you’ve got everything set up with your camera and your flash?

  54. Thank you! I just got an external flash for Christmas and your video and article are the best explanation I’ve found for how to set the camera and bounce the flash. I was up and running in a few minutes! I have a manual flash, but found it was easy to change the flash power to fit the look I want.

  55. OMG! Guys, this video and article was so HELPFUL!! I always prefer to use natural light, but knew that I really needed to learn flash for emergencies. Most articles and videos I came across were overwhelming and just added to my fear of learning flash. But this video was so easy to understand! Thank you!

  56. Thanks for such a great tip! Being a beginner, I look forward to all this great advice. I need to buy that flash and practice!!

  57. Hi! This is he best thing I have ever read for indoor shooting and flash!!! I just tried it and it works like a charm! Thank you so much!!

  58. I tried this in the last 2 weeks. I have noticed that the color temperature of shots I took in home are lower for this arrangement compared to a bounce off the top and I ended up increasing the color temperature post processing. Is this to be expected? or am I doing something wrong.

  59. wow, thanks for such a useful video! really helps !

  60. About how many times do you change out the batteries in the flash battery pack at a reception?

  61. Thank you so much! I have my first Lifestyle shoot today, and unfortunately will not have any natural light to use (it’ll be in the evening) so I needed this!

  62. Sorry I did not have time to read all the post. This is great information, but I just shoot in manual, and advice for manual shooters ? I noticed you mentioned TTL only.

    Thanks for the clarity with the ambient light

    • Hi Sonia,
      Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but this tutorial is assuming shooters are shooting manual as I’m pretty sure we’re all generally shooting in manual. The TTL is just the auto for the flash, and is the brains to calculate what output (flash) you need when you shoot in manual. I used to think that I needed to shoot “Manual” in the flash because I was shooting in Manual in the camera but that’s not the case. You can certainly use manual settings on your flash, if you need to, but it’s tricky to guess what numbers you need for the output unless you are very old school and can do the math calculations based on fstops. When you need to be fast, TTL would be the better option because the flash calculates from whatever setting you use. That’s why in the video, Rob tells you to adjust your shutter, ISO and aperture. He’s obviously (or most likely) shooting in manual. And if I’m not mistaken, he touches on one of the options shooting not using TTL, is some cases you can’t get the right bounce because of the lack of ceiling etc.
      I hope that clears up your confusion.

      Rob & Lauen, thank you Sooooo much for your tutorial and eBook. I’ve always used flash but was inconsistent or spending too much time on settings. Now that I’m using TTL, it’s made my life so much going easier and it’s all due to your tutorials. I’m not sure if your still answering questions here now a days, but I’m curious if you can help me with a question of my own:
      When shooting ETTL on the 600EX, if you point the flash up or even 45 degrees, the “A” (auto calculation for distance) disappears because it can no longer accurately calculate the distance when not pointed directly at a subject (according to the 600EX manual) – does this mean that the ETTL will not then calculate the flashes output properly because of the 45 degrees or straight up? (I’m a Nikon D4 shooter who has recently added a canon 1Dx and flash to my gear).
      Thanks in advance…!
      Sandi

  63. Well done! simple, effective. Thanks!

  64. Dan Evans says:

    Thanks Rob & Lauren for a great ‘How to bounce flash’ tutorial, I found it really helpful.

  65. Kay-Dee says:

    Just got an external flash because I saw it was on clearance even though I had no idea how or why to use it. This was extremely helpful!! I can’t wait to try these techniques. Would you just connect the battery back and attach it to your belt/etc while you’re shooting?

    • Rob Lim says:

      Hey Kay-Dee. Congrats on the new flash! And yes, when shooting with a battery pack we would connect it and leave the battery pack in a small bag we carried with us (Shootsacs)

  66. Rob, I had heard about this method from another tutorial by a husband and wife team named Justin and Mary but couldn’t get it to work because they suggested a shutter speed that was over what you suggested (I’m guessing they “forced” it from what the manufacturer settings are?). Anyways, so glad to have the method explained here so clearly. My question is this–how do you adjust the strength of your flash (I’m a total newbie here, so don’t laugh at the dumb question) and how quickly will I burn blow through my batteries using this method. I know the farther the distance the light has to bounce, the more the battery gets used up. Is this method very widely used in professional photography to cancel out the weird mixed lighting? I’m a bit confused because I once read that with flash photography, its always best to get the most light possible using your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed before introducing light via flash. However, this seems to be a big exception here. This method seems to work so well that I would think I would be employing this technique a lot because I am literally ALWAYS in some sort of weird indoor mixed lighting. Lastly, would you guys recommend getting rechargeable batteries, since this technique will eat up battery power quickly? Thanks!

    • Oh and one more question, in the later part of the post, you mentioned that as a last resort, you would recommend using a flash diffuser if there isn’t a good surface to bounce light off of. My question is, why is this used as a last resort? It seems so convenient to pop on a flash diffuser vs scouring the place and moving subjects near an area where you can bounce light off of, no? Or wouldn’t it be easier to use your method of omitting ambient lighting, pop on a flash diffuser, and point directly at the subject if the subject is at a far-off distance? Is this not ideal because its just not going to produce nearly as interesting lighting?

      • The light is less flattering (a smaller source) with a flash diffuser compared to bouncing it off the ceiling (larger softer source). But sometimes the ceiling is too high, or might be oddly coloured and so the diffuser helps in those situations.

    • Yes, using this method does use up a lot of battery power. Using rechargeable batteries is NiMh batteries is a must, and it’s also useful to get external battery packs (that plug into the flash).

      If you bump ISO you’ll end up getting more ambient light. And mixing ambient light with light from your flash will result in photos that are impossible to white balance.

      So my suggestion would be to go either way – shoot completely without flash (High ISO, wide aperture), or to use the method in this post where you use flash and try to block out ambient light.

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